Many Catholics at the national and diocesan levels have been outspoken on recent immigration issues. In Tompkins County, other religious denominations apparently share that concern.
Representatives from 15 faith communities attended the Catholic Charities Public Policy Breakfast Briefing June 13. The eighth annual gathering for area religious leaders was held at the Tikkun V’Or Reformed Jewish Temple in Ithaca.
“It was a great event, wonderful representation,” remarked Edie Reagan, justice-and-peace director for Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga. She said she was impressed that “25 leaders from our local Catholic, Protestant and Jewish congregations took the time out of their day to come together and learn more about these issues, so that they could better educate their own congregations and motivate their community members to take action. To me, this reflects a passionate interest on their part.”
The day’s theme was “Welcoming the Stranger in Our Midst: Fairness and Immigration Policy.” The featured speaker was Steve Yale-Loehr, adjunct professor at Cornell Law School, who is one of the country’s foremost immigration lawyers.
Yale-Loehr pointed out that Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious teachings all promote welcoming the stranger as a priority. He also discussed some of the key points of H.R. 4437, the bill passed in December 2005 by the House of Representatives, that would make it a federal crime to reside illegally in the United States and a felony for anyone who assists undocumented workers. H.R. 4437 also calls for construction of a border fence between the United States and Mexico.
An alternative bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (S. 2611), was passed by the Senate May 25. That bill addresses border security as well, but also seeks to establish an immigrant guest-worker program and offer the possibility of citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants already in this country.
The immigration debate is generating considerable passion: In recent weeks restrictionists have mailed thousands of bricks — symbolizing the border fence — to members of Congress. Meanwhile, those in favor of S. 2611 are countering the brick movement by sending work gloves to congressional leaders.
Yale-Loehr ended his talk by challenging the religious leaders to take action on this issue.
More than 50 percent of farm workers in New York state are undocumented. According to the 2000 Census, more than 10,000 foreign-born people were living in Tompkins County and more than 70 percent were not U.S. citizens at the time.
In early May, Catholic Charities took part in a rally for immigrants’ rights in Ithaca. During that event, 177 individuals signed a Catholic Charities-circulated petition advocating for the dignity and rights of immigrants regardless of their legal status. Reagan said the petition has since been forwarded to state senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, but neither office had responded as of late July.